Everyday Design: User Experience Nightmare at the Social Security Office

kioskMy husband and I had some paperwork we needed to complete at the social security administration office. We were pleased to find an office, conveniently located near our home. Because we had a relatively short drive and planned to get there right at open, we hoped we would be in and out.

As we would come to find out that fateful Thursday, this would not be the case. Four hours later, we left the office with our paperwork complete and over half of our day gone. So what went wrong, you ask?

When we entered the office, there were six people ahead of us already awaiting their turn. A kiosk greeted those that entered and requested a social security number and a reason for visiting the office. My husband filled out the information on our behalf and we took our seat in the lobby and waited for our number to be called.

As we waited, I began to read all of the signs posted about the office. The most common sign stated something to the effect of “our representatives are specialized to meet your needs. Because of this you may be called out of order.”

That’s when I began to notice the design of the service they had in place. All of the numbers we were given had an associated letter assigned to it as well. I realized that letter must have been an indicator of what group our need fell into and thus what associate would be appropriate for us to see. Since I did not enter our information into the kiosk, my husband must have indicated the reason for our visit.

A half hour after entering the office, our number was called. We sat down in front of a very nice woman who asked us the reason for our visit. Upon our description, she replied “I’m not actually the person who is able to help you take care of that today. Let me enter you back into our waiting system and you will be called by a representative that is specialized to help you. They will call you soon by name.”

So we returned to sit down in the lobby. Our previous seats were now taken, as the lobby was nearly full at this point. I was confused. I thought the representative we were directed to was supposed to be specialized to handle our needs.

To confirm my earlier assumption, I asked my husband if he entered the reason for our visit in the kiosk. “Yes,” he told me. “But the options were confusing, and I didn’t know what to select, so I just clicked ‘other’.” That explains why the J’s we called so quickly. They were simply a triage for determining where those who select it should be directed.

I began to have flashbacks of a dream I had once about having to select my feelings from a drop down (user-experience designer nightmares). In the dream, I was upset because I couldn’t find an option in the menu that fit the way I was feeling!

While the service design they had in place was good in theory, it’s only as good as the options they supply, or the clarity of those options for end users. We survived our wait that day, but what should have taken at most an hour took up half of our day…all because of stupid design.

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